Chapter Five - Defects in the Adoption Model
In this chapter a closer look at the adoption model will be given with the purpose of showing the severe defects in the model and how it is against Scripture. Most of the defects come in the form of contradictions arising from reconciling the model with the biblical model of birth, of which much has been said already. Other defects involve its opposition to other aspects of salvation and redemption.
In giving further scrutiny to this widely accepted model of child making by adoption, as applied to the way God makes his children, it has already been demonstrated that the birth model makes the adoption model unnecessary, and to insist on both being models calls for one to hold to a contradiction and to an absurdity.
In the previous chapter it was shown how the Scriptures of the OT were clear in calling Israel the Lord's "begotten son." This not only logically excludes the idea of "adoption" but accounts for it's absence in the OT as the explanation given by the Lord for calling people his children or sons. In addition to the verses cited in the previous chapter about Israel being God's offspring by a birth, notice these words of the prophet Isaiah.
"Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." (Isaiah 51: 1-2)
What kind of "father" was either the Lord or Abraham to Israel? An adopted father or birth father? Though the word "begat" is not used in this passage, yet it is implied. Being "hewn" from the quarry is a metaphor for being sired by Abraham, as coming from his seed. Sarah's womb is compared to the pit from whence the hewn stone would be shaped. No where is adoption given as the reason for the Israelites being the children or sons of God. Of course, like in the NT, being "the seed of Abraham" is intimately connected with being "the children of God." In Galatians Paul said:
"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ... And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (3:16,29)
Those who are, truly in God's eyes, of "the seed of Abraham," are indeed the real "children" or offspring of God. But, what is it that makes one of this "seed"? If looked at from the standpoint of the physical seed, all who came "from" Abraham were of his seed, and none were his seed by adoption. It is also true in regard to those who are of that seed by virtue of their union to Christ, who is superlatively "the seed." Thus, as will be shown, believers, though ethnically Gentiles, are the real "seed of Abraham" or true "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), the spiritual children of God. Paul plainly says about those who are merely of the physical seed of Abraham - "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." (Rom. 9:8)
But, in either case, whether we are talking about the physical seed of Abraham, or the spiritual seed, we are still talking about people who are connected with Abraham by virtue of a birth, and not by adoption. The very idea that a Hebrew, or NT writer, would refer to adopted children as being the "seed" of a father is totally without foundation. Not only is it true that OT Israelites were so by birth, and not by adoption, but it is also true of NT believers.
Christians are Born and Not Adopted
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13)
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:3-8)
Paul spoke of souls begin "begotten" by his preaching the Gospel (I Cor. 5: 15). Peter spoke of "being born again by the word of God" (I Peter 1: 23). James spoke of God who, of his own will, "begat us with the word of truth" (James 1:18) But, where is it ever said that Christians were adopted? As said in the Introduction, if the five verses that have "adoption" had been translated correctly, no one would ever think that Christians were God's children in any way other than by a birth. It is clear also that the NT writers referred to believers, either Jew or Gentile, as being the children and sons of God because of this spiritual birth and never as a result of a Roman style adoption procedure.
The Lord Rejected the Adoption Method
"After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:1-6)
This text is important in the debate about adoption and about how one becomes the child, son, or heir of a man, in the time of Abraham. Abraham has been promised a "seed," children, and especially a "son." This seed would become innumerable. Abraham's first understanding of God's promise was correct. God would give him a seed, an offspring, an heir, one who would "come forth out of thine own bowels." Yet, Abraham, with his age and that of Sarah, brings him to question the promise. Perhaps he has misinterpreted the prophecy. Maybe God will make an heir for Abraham by adoption, he thinks. But, this was not his first understanding of how God would give him a male heir. The adoption method was "plan B" in his mind. After all, it seems that adoption of a servant to be the male heir was a Mesopotamian custom. Following then the heathen custom of the day, he suggests that perhaps LORD God ought to adopt his “steward, this "Eliezer of Damascus,” to make him his legal “heir.” However, God rejects this plan and promises that Abraham will have a child “out of thine own bowels” (i.e., by being physically procreated). The Lord’s rejection of Abraham’s solution preceded God’s reiterated promise of innumerable descendants.
God says in this narrative - "An adopted child will not be your heir" and "your child will be your child by birth and not by adoption."
This ought to warn us about making adoption to be the vehicle for God acquiring children and of them becoming heirs, and about trying to make birth and adoption to be complimentary models. The Lord is not only strong in affirming that the heir to the Abrahamic promises will be made so by procreation, but also in denying that it is by adoption. Yet, in spite of this, commentators will continue to speak of both models as necessary to explain how people become the children of God. Just as adopted children were rejected from being the physical seed of Abraham, the seed being restricted to those born of the flesh, so the spiritual seed also are not adopted children, but those who are so by a new birth of the Spirit.
Does God Need To Adopt?
To speak after the manner of men, is God sterile? Is it because he cannot have children (again speaking carnally)? Is it because he is childless and must need adopt? This is the reason for most adoptions, among men historically, especially among the Greeks and Romans. It is because a man has no male heir, one of his seed, that he must therefore adopt. This is important, because all scholars know that if "adoption" be the correct rendering of "huiothesia," then it must be either a Greek or Roman model that is being used. Those who use a later English model have no authority to do so, for modern English adoption is unlike Greek or Roman in purpose and procedure. Knowing this, we must conclude that God is adopting children because he cannot have any of his own. This is one wholly untenable and yet a logical result arising from making Greco-Roman adoption the model for how and why God acquires children.
Someone might respond by saying - "Of course God is not sterile. He only chooses to adopt because he wants more children than birthed children, like many today." But, there are several things wrong with this reply and reveals much about how people can hold on to a false idea no matter what the logical consequences.
If you listen to the teaching of most commentators, then you will come away thinking that God is sterile, because, as we have seen, the reason why Greek and Roman men adopted males to be heirs was because they had none of their own, nearly always resulting from infertility. These are theological consequences of the view that says that God adopted Israel to be his son, and says that Christians likewise have been adopted into the family of God, all after the Roman or Greek fashion.
Further, the way adoption is explained today, it is God who adopts because it is his way of caring for orphans, and people are encouraged to imitate him in this and adopt orphans. He adopts for the benefit of the orphan. But, Greek and Roman adoption was not for the purpose of helping orphans, nor for the chief good of the one adopted, but rather for the greater good of the childless man. If this be a model for Christian theology, then God not only is represented as sterile and childless, but also as adopting chiefly for his own good.
In "The Law of Adoption" by John Francis Brosnan in the Columbia Law Review (Vol. 22, No. 4, Apr., 1922, pp. 332-342 - SEE HERE - emphasis mine), we read:
"Roman law is the unquestioned source of our adoption statutes of to-day. It is, therefore, of interest to consider, although briefly, the place and development of adoption under that system of jurisprudence.
Its purpose was to create artificially the parental power for the benefit of a head of a family over a person not subject thereto by birth. It was designed to avoid the extinction of the family and to perpetuate the rites of family religious worship, so that it was frequently resorted to and became extremely important."
If in Roman adoption the father, or paterfamilias. is a type of God as father, then it fails miserably. Is the Roman father, in his purpose and procedure in acquiring sons and heirs a picture of God doing the same? Who can believe it? Yet, if the Roman system of adoption be the model put forth by Paul to illustrate God's adoption of sons and heirs, we have many problems, as is being shown. By the Roman model one must view God as adopting children because either 1) he has none of his own, or 2) because his own biological sons are rejected as not being worthy to be heir.
Trevor Burke wrote the following in "Pauline Adoption: a Sociological Approach" (emphasis mine - SEE HERE):
"Given the fundamental importance of the family to Roman society, adoption was a lifeline 'for a family in danger of dying out' . This was usually due to a paterfamilias (head of the household) being unable to have children of his own, or because his own children had failed to live to adulthood, and so, in order that he might have an heir, recourse was made to adopting a son from another family...where childlessness is one of the main reasons for embarking on such a course, The Roman conception of adoption was rooted in the old religious basis of the Roman family where each family had its own cult or sacra ('sacred things'). It was paramount that the family worship should continue and where this was threatened, or in doubt, due to a lack of persons to carry it on, adoption was called into practice. Again, unlike society today where children are adopted, the normal subjects of adoption in the Roman world were already adults, by which time the chances of survival were greater and the adopting father could see what he was getting as a son and heir."
Does God adopt for the reason that Roman men did? Was it a "lifeline for a family in danger of dying out"? Who can believe that this would be a reason for God to adopt! Does God adopt because he is "unable to have children of his own"? Does he adopt because some of his biological sons are unworthy? Does God adopt adults or children?
Consider also the fact that in Roman adoptions, the male chosen to be adopted, slave or near kin, had choice whether to be adopted or not. This is because the purpose of Roman adoption, to acquire a male heir, nearly always excluded babies or small children, as noted. "Sons" were adopted, that is, adolescents or young mature men. These men had to agree to the adoption. Yet, in modern adoptions, not only is the purpose generally not to acquire a male heir, but the age of the adoptee is different, for today adoption is rarely of young men, it nearly always being adoption of babies or very small children, whose consent is not required. Clearly, whether we choose an adoption model where the choice of the adoptee is involved, or not, each model has its consequences theologically.
The Eternal Family & Son
God has never been childless or without an heir. Just as the first person in the Trinity is styled the "Father," and has ever been so, likewise the second person has always been styled the "Son," and this has ever been so. Likewise, the Spirit is the third member of this divine family.
Christ is "the Son of God" and "the only begotten of the Father," and this by birth and not by adoption. This begetting of "the Son of God" is an immanent act of God, eternal and without beginning. As long as God has been "Father" he has also been "Son" and "Spirit." So, it is not proper to say that God adopts children from among men because he is childless or without a male heir.
"The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water." (Prov. 8:22-24)
The Son of God was "brought forth" in eternity past. His sonship is without beginning. It was the Father, Son (or Word) and Spirit that said "let us make man in our image after our likeness."
Not only will the purpose of Greek or Roman adoption, or of that adoption suggested by Abraham, not serve as a model for why God is "father" to his children, but it will not picture how he actually makes or produces children, as has been shown. Certainly God does not adopt because he wants more children than he is able to produce, the reason for many modern adoptions, nor because he is sterile or unable to produce children, nor because he lacks an heir.
God was not creating a totally new family by begetting children from among fallen men. As shown, there is the eternal family of Father, Son, and Spirit. Those who are "born of God" are they who become new members of the eternal family. Not that they ever become members of the Trinity or become God, but are created children, who are not so from eternity. Angels are, in the OT, called "sons of God," and this is due to them being created as such. So, likewise, Christians are "sons of God" by a new creation.
Romans Adopted Their Own Kin
Considering that the main purpose of Roman adoption was the preservation of the family clan or cult, only males were chosen. Generally heirless Roman men looked within their own extended family for a suitable man to adopt as son and heir. If a worthy man was not found there, one could be taken from among the slave population and made an heir. Caesar adopted his great-nephew Octavius. Actually, many Roman emperors adopted their successors. Adopting nephews was very common.
Now, if all this be a picture of how God supposedly adopts men and makes them heirs, then does he not look first to his own kin? If he does have begotten children, yet he adopts, is it because his own children have proved unworthy?
At this point, by way of introduction, mention must be made about the fact that Romans "adopted" or "son placed" their own biological sons in the Toga ceremony. But, that will be addressed in coming chapters.
I am sure that it has by now become quite obvious that the theological consequences for arguing for a doctrine of adoption to explain the manner in which people become children of God, and enter into his family, is quite untenable.
Wrote Dr. John MacArthur in "Marks of a Child Adopted by God" (See Here - emphasis mine):
"The theme of these three verses then clearly is our being adopted as sons of God. One of the most beautiful and rich theological concepts of the Scripture is this theme of adoption. In fact the very word is filled with grace and mercy and love. Adoption by definition refers to a legal action by which a person takes into his family a child not his own and usually not even related to him for the purpose of treating him as and giving him all the privileges of his own child. That's adoption, a legal action by which we take someone who is not a part of our family in to grant them all the privileges of being our true child."
One should be able to see the several errors in Dr. MacArthur's words. First, is it so that Christians, by adoption, are not God's own children, as MacArthur affirms? MacArthur, like Piper and others, argue that God will later, after adoption, make those "not his own," to become his own children by the new birth, but, as observed in the previous chapters, this is fraught with all kinds of difficulties. One wonders what a later spiritual birth does for the adopted person?
MacArthur again wrote:
"In the first century, you will be happy to know this, in the first century when Paul was writing this adopted children were in many cases more honored than natural children. That's right. In many cases, in all cases it was seen as an act of honor to be adopted. And to be able to say in a world of illegitimate children and in a world of orphaned children I was chosen by someone. I wasn't just born into a family and you got what you got; I was chosen. Being adopted was a noble thing. An adopted son was deliberately chosen by the adopting father to perpetuate that father's name and to inherit that father's estate. And when a father in the Greek world didn't have a son he would go find the noblest available son and adopt him and give him all the rights and privileges. He was in no way inferior; in fact he was chosen because he may be superior. There were many fathers who had sons but their sons didn't meet their qualifications to pass on the estate so they went out and found one that did. An adopted son may have well received the joy of his father...father's affection more than a naturally born son and he may well have reproduced his father's moral standards more perfectly than natural sons."
Notice how MacArthur exalts the idea of being God's adopted children over being his own children by birth. He says that the birth is inferior to the adoption because in the latter case the child is chosen for its worthiness, while the former is not the result of a choice. He said - "when a father in the Greek world didn't have a son he would go find the noblest available son and adopt him." Is that what MacArthur believes about election, that God chose the most worthy? The child thus feels more loved and more important by being adopted rather than by being born? It is ironic that MacArthur, a Calvinist who believes in the doctrine of unconditional election, could think that his model of God choosing to adopt children, based upon their worthiness, is consistent with that.
It is hard to believe that MacArthur could so belittle the "birth" of Christians into the family of God, in favor of his adoption model, by saying "I wasn't just born into a family"? No, I was both born and adopted, and the latter is so much more precious than the former! No, I was adopted, which means I was chosen, but to be born does not imply choice. Such false reasoning from one who ought to know better!
Surely MacArthur knows that God is in control of all things, and that his birthing of children is a result of choice? Does he believe that some of God's children are "accidental pregnancies," that happened not as a result of choice? Surely he believes that every child that he has ever sired was sired on purpose? But, more on that later.
Dr. MacArthur wrote further:
"And that's the whole point of biblical adoption, that we become children of God by sovereign, divine choice. We are the preferred choice of God. That's a remarkable thing, isn't it? On the basis of free and voluntary election God has chosen us to be adopted as His sons."
Again, he is arguing for a Pelagian or Arminian view of election. God chooses on the basis of some qualitative difference or condition in the individual in a group. He says "we are the preferred choice of God," God choosing the fittest.
Dr. MacArthur wrote further:
"Throughout the New Testament you see this imagery over and over again that when you become a Christian you enter into the very family of God. You did nothing to earn it, you did nothing to deserve it, you did nothing to choose it,"
In speaking of adoption he said "throughout the New Testament you see this imagery over and over again," but, as shown already, the NT does not promote the idea of adoption "throughout," but rather teaches that people are designated as children and sons of God as a result of spiritual birth. But, men like Piper and MacArthur, think that being born of God does not do for us all that we need to make us his children, being deficient in that respect.
In these words he also contradicts what he said previously. He said that God chose the worthy to be his heir, but here he says that becoming God's child by adoption is something that a person did not do anything to earn. Then, he says, "you did nothing to choose it." But, he must be arguing from modern English adoption modes, which the Apostle knew nothing about, of course, for in Roman adoption the adoptee, as stated previously, had to approve of the adoption.
So, we see more of the fact that the birth model and the adoption model are not complimentary, but rather at odds. First, in the case of Roman adoption, the person chooses whether he wants to be the son of another. Yet, in birth, the child does not choose such. So, which is it?
Dr. MacArthur wrote further:
"Now, when we talk about salvation in the terms of adoption, I just want to put in a footnote here so you don't miss the full picture. That's just one view of salvation. You could talk about salvation with the term of justification, which is a different issue. It looks at salvation from the forensic side, from God declaring us righteous on the merits of Christ. You could look at salvation as regeneration, which looks at salvation as the new birth. You could look at salvation under the term “sanctification,” which means you're set apart from sin unto holiness. And you can look at salvation as adoption.Those are all facets of salvation. It's like one diamond with many facets; you can look at from many angles and see its beauty. We are regenerate, we are justified, we are sanctified, we have been converted and we have been adopted. So in one sense we are sons by adoption and we are also sons by birth. Right? Regeneration. You shouldn't be confused, you shouldn't say are we adopted or are we born? Both. Those are just images. Those are just magnificent ways to look at what happened to us. And I think the reason that the New Testament introduces adoption is because adoption was such a remarkably lofty thing. To say that you were born into the family of God might not be something very special but to say that out of all the world of people God Himself chose you and lifted you to the status of an heir and a joint heir with Jesus Christ to become His own son
forever that says something unique."
Yes, there are "facets" to the diamond of soteriological truth. But, to argue that justification and sanctification are facets of salvation in the same way as are birth and adoption, fails to see how the one involves a contradiction while the other does not. It is not a contradiction to say one has both been justified and sanctified, yet it is a contradiction to say that one has been both adopted and born by the same parents. Further, he tries to cover up such contradictions by saying "those are just images," as if this meant that it is okay for such contradictions to exist. Also, he again reiterates the fact that birth alone is deficient, and requires adoption as an addition, with adoption being the more important facet. Again, he belittles the importance of being born a child.
Dr. MacArthur wrote further:
"That's why the issue of adoption, picture of adoption, is given for us in the New Testament, because it opens up and enriches us with this tremendous dimension of salvation."
With this, like Piper, MacArthur admits that the doctrine of adoption was not an OT teaching. In this admission, he gives up a large basis for his case being truth. NT teaching is based upon the OT. Further, as has been shown, the NT does not contradict the OT, for the NT also does not teach the doctrine of adoption.